Minutes after an EF-4 tornado pummeled Tuscaloosa, Birmingham residents watched in shock as the same storm headed straight for their city. The twister blew through Concord and Pleasant Grove before it wreaked havoc on Pratt City.
Apartment buildings and homes were demolished as the tornado tracked straight down Cherry Avenue, a heavily populated street. One woman, Bessie Brewster, 72, lost her life and hundreds, maybe thousands more lost everything they had. Video: Pratt City damage on Cherry Ave.
Authorities immediately evacuated the area after the tornado due to a gas leak and to let emergency crews move in to help anyone trapped. There was a "mass exodus" down Cherry Avenue as people with bloody, shocked faces carried their belongings, their children and their pets. Video: Devastation and tears in Pratt City; Video: First responders evacuate Pratt City
Marchette and Rita Gulley went back to the home of their grandmother and aunt, Rosa Taylor, to search for items such as pictures, a Bible and the quilt Marchette helped his grandmother make years and years ago. Video: Victims to nation: Don't forget about us
"The female in me says 'well you get to shop all over again for all the clothes, you get to build a new wardrobe, you get to do all the things that we females want to do,' but there are just some things you cannot go to the store and purchase again," Rita Gulley said.
A few days after the storm, May 3, people raced to their homes to salvage what they could before rain fell that night, ruining some things forever. Nevertheless, the overall consensus was that people were just glad to be alive. Video: Rain storms prevent Pratt City resident from recovering items
"This is all stuff. Stuff can be replaced, but lives cannot," Pratt City resident Brenda Reynolds said as she moved through the pile of rubble that used to be her house. Her neighbor, Ethel Harris said her neighbors "were like family," and is devastated that that family will most likely be broken up.
Members of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church filed in to the arena at Fair Park for their Sunday service after the storms. They said their spirit and faith was strong, even if their church had crumbled.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson paid a visit to the service and told people that while the glass may seem empty, he sees that this tragedy is colorblind. Video: Jesse Jackson has hopeful message for Pratt City
"I must say I found it to be a blessing yesterday to see from the ashes, the beauty. To see whites and blacks working together, to see white and black churches working together, to see white and black doctors working together, to see people, republican and democrat working together, not who's a conservative, who's a liberal but who's a human being," Jackson said.
The Birmingham City Council announced several initiatives to help those suffering from the severe storm damage. The new programs include a light furniture drive, clothing drive for school children and an "adopt-a-family" program. The city is also looking for a supply warehouse to store all donated items.
"We have an opportunity to rebuild Birmingham and make Pratt City and other neighborhoods better than ever," remarked Councilor Carole Smitherman. Video: Birmingham City Council makes plans for future
Jefferson County quickly stepped in to help those displaced in Pratt City. On May 3, the county commission announced that 18 shelters were open with 409 occupants. 3000 homes were destroyed in the county and 5700 structures, including businesses and standalone buildings were demolished. The cost of debris cleanup in Jefferson County will be $400 million and will take four weeks before temporary housing can be put in place. Video: JeffCo Commission advances storm recovery
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Birmingham native paid Pratt City a visit on May 3. She hopes her visit will show that the nation cares very much about the devastation in Alabama. Video: Condoleezza Rice makes visit to Pratt City
"I want the people of Birmingham and the people of the state of Alabama to know that everyone is pulling for them, that we are deeply moved by the tragedy that has struck this great state," Rice said. "I want to offer my condolences to those who have lost loved ones and my prayers and thoughts to those who are now in the process of survival and recovery."
Despite the way this community came together, there were several individuals who were arrested for looting, taking advantage of those whose lives were already destroyed.